by Martha Lawlor –
Sooner or later, all of us will have to deal with memory loss issues, possibly for other family members, if not for ourselves. Different options are available in our community. Respite programs, often run by churches, typically hold weekly programs with socially enriching and fun activities, offering the caregivers some free time of their own. When it isn’t safe for an individual to be left on his or her own, the next step may be an Adult Day Health Center, licensed by the state, where there is usually a daily fee. Memory Connections is a different type of program, aimed at adults in the EARLY stages of a memory impairment disease, intended to provide emotional support as well as brain exercises. The goal is to improve the quality of life of the participants, and provide a feeling of belonging for them.
AGE was established in Austin thirty years ago to tackle, with expert solutions, the challenge of aging. Today they serve a population of five counties in Central Texas, offering multiple programs which include two Adult Day Health centers in Austin and Round Rock, care partner education and resources, health equipment lending, and five Memory Connections locations, including — thanks to Seeds of Strength — Georgetown. K.C. Lawrence, Licensed Master of Social Work, is the Memory Connections Program Director for AGE of Central Texas.
In 2017, Seeds of Strength awarded a $10,000 grant to AGE of Central Texas to fund half of the salary for a new full-time staff member to start a Memory Connections program in Georgetown.
The free, weekly program is held in the conference room at the Scott & White Clinic on Williams Drive near Sun City on Wednesdays from 9:30 AM -2:30 PM.
Here’s what a typical day might look like:
9:30 AM – 10:30 AM Brain boosters, such as trivia, puzzles, word games
10:30 AM -11:30 AM Read and discuss interesting news excerpts prepared by the staff
11:30 – 12 NOON Exercise, such as yoga, a walk outside, or chair dancing
12 NOON – 1:30 PM Lunch and an opportunity to share challenges, tips and advice on coping with memory loss, led by a licensed professional
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM Creative activities, such as art, creative writing, music or painting
The group is limited to fifteen participants, often referred by doctors or other medical personnel. A waiting list is kept, so that as participants transition out of the group, new people can be added. The group is led by Erica, a Master Social Worker (MSW) working on her license (LMSW), who is a Memory Connections Program Associate. She’s a full-time employee, working with 3 Memory Connections locations, who has both the experience and personality to discuss serious issues in an upbeat and caring way. Since the program’s inception in March 2017, twenty-two people have been in the program. The average length of participation in Memory Connections is about eighteen months.
Monthly support meetings for the care partners are led by a licensed professional to answer questions, learn about available resources, and share experiences with other care-partners.
On February 25, K.C. welcomed our group of SoS members for the site visit, and she presented the details of their program and introduced us to Erica. Erica told us how quickly participants bond and share hugs, and indicated that the Georgetown group has the best sense of humor, with lots of jokes and laughter! She gave us an opportunity to speak with one of the participants, Jerry, and his wife Linda. Both articulated, through prepared written comments, their experiences with Memory Connections. Jerry and Linda gave lots of accolades to Erica for understanding the perspectives of both the care-partners and the program participants. Jerry likes being part of a safe and supportive group, and Linda looks forward to five hours of ‘me time’ each week. They agree that Memory Connections has reduced their stress levels.
Here are some comments from other program participants:
• I can come here and share whatever and not feel judged. It takes the sting out of (living with memory loss).
• I enjoy exchanging ideas and belonging. This is a community of understanding and support.
• This is my family.
• What you all are doing is the greatest thing, helping us.
• I love it.
• (My first day at the program was) literally the best day of my life.
With our population in Georgetown continuing to grow and to age, Memory Connections provides a valuable service to our community, and has proved to be a sound investment by Seeds of Strength.